Marie Claire: I married myself

Marie Claire: I married myself

I have a piece at Marie Claire today about my not-engagement ring, and about how we might endow old symbols with new meaning:

Forget men—one of the longest and most meaningful relationships I’ve ever had was with my doctorate dissertation. It consumed me, and fascinated me, and took up all my time and energy. It accounted for four full, pivotal years of my life.

As I worked on it, friends all around me were getting engaged, tying the knot, and changing their names from Ms. Them to Mrs. Someone Else. When the full draft of my thesis was finished and the end was in sight, I decided that I wanted to mark the pivotal moment when I changed my name from Ms. to Dr.

So I bought myself a diamond ring at an auction, and when my I passed my thesis defense, I put it, proudly, on my left ring finger.

My statement can result in weird interactions. “So what does your fiancé do?” strangers will ask, and I’ll stare blankly at them for a second before collecting myself. “I’m not engaged,” I’ll reply. “I’m a doctor.” Then it’s their turn to stare, understandably confused by the non sequitur. But then I get to explain why I bought the ring, and why I wear it where I do.

You can read the whole thing here.

Talking Points Memo: The Tiffany’s same-sex marriage ad is radical and retrograde

Talking Points Memo: The Tiffany’s same-sex marriage ad is radical and retrograde

Today, Talking Points Memo published a piece that I co-wrote with Zach Wahls, a nationally-recognised LGBTQ rights advocate, about Tiffany & Co.’s new ad campaign:

Symbols—both the inclusion of same-sex couples in ad campaigns and marriage rings themselves—are powerful, especially in an increasingly shareable digital world, and the Tiffany campaign tells us a lot about the progress of LGBTQ rights in America. It also tells us just as much, and perhaps more, about the gravitational pull of the wedding-and-marriage industrial complex.

In other words, the Tiffany’s ad is just as retrograde as it is radical.

There’s certainly something radical about the presence of a gay couple in a Tiffany ad (insofar as any diamond ad can be radical). Tiffany is, after all, the zenith of marriage industry. As cultural symbols go, it doesn’t get much more powerful than an engagement ring from Tiffany. In popular culture, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the 2002 Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama—in which the heroine’s wealthy boyfriend proposes by taking her to the Manhattan Tiffany flagship after hours, flipping the light switch, and saying, “pick one”—the brand is synonymous with romance, wealth and high cultural capital, all of which are widely considered desirable.

You can read the whole thing here.

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

I had a piece at BuzzFeed last week, about the way that social media and new attitudes toward marriage have reshaped the way we live our love lives today:

Late last year, a grand romantic gesture went horribly awry. A Dutch man in a town near Utrecht hired a crane to use in a spectacular marriage proposal — the plan was for him to be lowered into his girlfriend’s garden as he sang to her, and for him to then pop the question. Alas. The crane fell over and smashed through neighboring roofs, resulting in the evacuation of 32 homes, international news coverage, and the amused pity of readers around the world. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and she said yes.

As someone who has watched a lot of romantic comedies — they were the subject of my doctoral dissertation — this story caught my eye. In order for a romantic comedy to come to a “happy” ending (that is, with the couple united, and presumably headed for monogamous heterosexual marriage), they must first be reunited, having been parted by the various obstacles to their love. Then she writes an article about him and stands on the baseball field in front of a huge crowd, waiting for him to show up and accept her apology, or he drives to her apartment in a white limo blaring La Traviata out the sunroof and climbs up her fire escape to declare his love. Or he stages a flash mob in Grand Central Station, or stands outside her window with a boom box, or interrupts her at her place of work to propose in broken Portuguese, or shows up at her press conference to ask her a big non-work-related question. You know the drill.

The unnamed hopelessly romantic Dutchman is an extreme example of how the ways in which many of us experience and express love have changed in recent years. Our collective desire to make a spectacle out of our love, and our unprecedented ability to broadcast and share that spectacle, have produced a visible and dramatic shift in the culture of romance. Today, we perform love, and consume it, as never before. And yet, the popularity of marriage is fading among young Americans. It’s a fraught and fascinating paradox, one of several that mark contemporary romance culture.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thought Catalog: Who cares about whom Hermione Granger married?

Thought Catalog: Who cares about whom Hermione Granger married?

Last week’s column at Thought Catalog was about J. K. Rowling’s regrets about pairing Hermione Granger with Ron Weasley, rather than with Harry Potter:

Rowling said in the interview that she hoped she wasn’t breaking too many hearts when she expressed her regret and bringing these two beloved characters together. My heart’s not broken, even though I do think that of all the romance threads in the novels, Ron’s and Hermione’s is the most realistic — the epilogue, as always, notwithstanding. I’m just not that interested in who Hermione marries. I don’t care if it’s Ron, or Harry, or Hagrid’s runty giant half-brother Grawp. Hermione, when asked what she was planning to do after she graduated from Hogwarts, said, “I’m hoping to do some good in the world.” In my head, she becomes Minister of Magic.

Here’s my case for Hermione for Minister (which is my way of inviting you to close this tab if extreme nerdiness is not your thing. It is about to get nerdy as hell in here, and I make zero apologies for that).

Assuming that there are very few lines of work for a witch or wizard to go into after they leave Hogwarts, and assuming that the best and the brightest go on to work at the Ministry, that’s where Hermione should be. She’s top of her class in everything, with the exception of Defense Against the Dark Arts, but given that she has destroyed a piece of Voldemort’s soul with her own two hands (that’s what the abovementioned basilisk fangs were for), I suspect the Ministry would give her a pass on her only-almost-perfect Defense grades.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thought Catalog: December highlights

Thought Catalog: December highlights

Here are my best weekly columns from Thought Catalog in the last month of 2013:

Mascara, lipgloss, and other wastes of time.

Get ready, gentlemen, the cosmetics industry is coming for you.

Engagement rings, Facebook, and the public wedding proposal, about the question everyone asked when they found out I was going to Paris in December, and that my menschfriend was coming with me – is he going to pop the question in Paris?

He and I are 28 and 26 respectively. We’re at that age when questions are being popped. People expect it to happen; that’s just what couples our age do. And Paris is one of the more potent symbols of romance in Western culture. I can’t imagine how many couples from around the globe get engaged there every year. One of my best friends in the world got married this fall after proposing to his now-wife on Île de la Cité, just near Notre Dame. The romance of Paris is hard to resist — the buildings, the art, the French accents, the affordability of wine, which allows you to be slightly tipsy all the time if you so choose. Fortunately, I’m a professional feminist, so it’s my job in life to suck the fun and romance out of everything, and Paris is no exception. Strolling by twilight along the Seine? You don’t want to know how many corpses have been tossed into it in the last few centuries alone. Captivated by the cobblestone streets, the winding back alleys? Cool, picture them running red with blood during the Paris Commune or the Reign of Terror. Romantic, right?

I’m fascinated, though, by the assumption that this event is going to take place, indeed, that it must take place, not only because we’re at that age and have been together almost a year, but because we are going to this place, together. It will be more special, more of an event, if it happens there. It will make such a good story. With the lights and the romance and the cobblestones, it will be so much more spectacular — and a proposal should be spectacular.

That’s increasingly what we’re told, as proposals and engagements because an increasingly visible and public part of wedding culture in America. “How did he do it?” is the first question a newly-engaged woman is likely to be asked, after “Can I see the ring?” He did it in a restaurant full of people. He did it with the help of your favorite author. He did it with a musical number at Disneyland. And he had it all filmed and put on Youtube so the rest of the world could enjoy the spectacle, too. Then comes the “He asked…” photo on Facebook or Instagram — the shot of your hand with your new ring without the rest of your body or the rest of the couple in the frame. Then the engagement photoshoot. As heterosexual marriage rates continue to drop, our performance of the rituals leading up to marriage becomes more insistent. Faced with marriage’s apparent dwindling relevance, this show goes on, bigger and bolder, like the band playing a rousing rendition of “Here Comes the Bride” as the cruise liner sinks.

Thought Catalog: Why I’m getting a degree in stupid stuff that everyone hates

Thought Catalog: Why I’m getting a degree in stupid stuff that everyone hates

I have a piece at Thought Catalog this week, about why I study rom coms:

Whenever I tell people what I’m writing my doctoral thesis about — romantic comedies — I expect, based on three years of experience, one of two reactions. The first is some variation on, “Oh my gosh, how fun!” Which is not the f-word I usually employ when describing my doctoral dissertation. The second reaction is less enthusiastic, and is often accompanied by an eyeroll. “Ugh, why?” is something that I’ve heard a lot in the last few years, and as much as it makes me want to roll my own eyes – because it’s often followed by a sneering comment about how Christ, you really can get a degree in anyfuckingthing these days, can’t you? — it’s not an entirely unreasonable question.

Why study romantic comedies? They’re formulaic and predictable and light and fluffy. Everyone knows how they’re going to end. They don’t mean anything. Why devote years of my life to them when I could be studying The Odyssey or David Copperfield? If I’m going to study modern texts, why not “serious” ones like Citizen Kane or Breaking Bad?

Well, for one thing, I’m interested in stories about women. And all those abovementioned stories, those stories we take so seriously, those “real” texts, are about dudes. In contemporary film, there’s only one genre that’s made for and about women, and that’s romantic comedies (and these days, many of them are made about men and with the men in the audience in mind). This is the only genre we get, so it behooves us to understand what it’s saying to and about women. And if it is indeed formulaic, predictable, light, and fluffy, a claim I don’t necessarily agree with, shouldn’t we try to explain why that is, so that we can make it better?

You can read the whole thing here.

New York: Change my name, change my name

New York: Change my name, change my name

Yeah, that’s a Destiny’s Child joke. I have a piece at New York today, about why and how women change their names when they get married. Starting, of course, with Queen Bey.

In the days before the Grammys, Beyoncé Knowles ended the biggest week of her professional life with a bang, ricocheting from an a cappella “take that, haters” press conference to a jaw-dropping Super Bowl halftime show that drew near-universal praise. Poised for world domination, she announced her 2013 world tour the very next day.

It’s called “The Mrs. Carter Show.”

It’s the first time Beyoncé has publicly referred to herself in this way; her full married name is Knowles-Carter, but she doesn’t use the double barrel professionally, nor does husband Jay-Z, whose legal name is Shawn Knowles-Carter. Of course, Jay and Bey are exceptional, in that they’re known the world over by the one-word titles, but the thorny question of which names to use in which contexts is a problem non-famous women grapple with, too —particularly in an age when names are routinely plugged into search engines and “personal branding” is a career staple

You can read the whole thing here.